San Jose Mercury NewsSept. 4, 1996
Waters calls on Reno, CIA and Congress for investigation
BY GARY WEBB AND PAMELA KRAMERMercury News Staff Writers
In the widest-ranging call yet for an official investigation, South CentralLos Angeles Congresswoman Maxine Waters is requesting both federal andCongressional probes of the role U.S. goverment agencies may have playedin sparking the crack cocaine explosion of the 1980s.
Waters, a Democrat, sent out a series of letters Friday to U.S. AttorneyGeneral Janet Reno, Central Intelligence Agency Director John Deutch andRepublican and Democratic Congressional leaders citing the findings of arecent Mercury News investigation into the roots of the crack epidemic. Theseries, Dark Alliance, documented how a Bay Area drug network dumpedthousands of kilos of cheap cocaine into L.A.’s black neighborhoods in the1980s to fund a Latin American guerrilla army that was being run by the CIA.
”As someone who has seen how the crack cocaine trade has devastated theSouth-Central Los Angeles community, I cannot exaggerate my feelings ofdismay that my own government may have played a part in the origins andhistory of this problem,” Waters wrote. ”Portions of this country may havebeen exposed, indeed introduced, to the horror of crack cocaine becausecertain U.S.-government paid or organized operatives smuggled, transportedand sold it to American citizens.”
Mark Mansfield, a spokesman for the CIA, said Deutch ”is in the process ofresponding to these inquiries and (a written response) will be completedsoon.” Mansfield reiterated the CIA’s belief that any suggestion that thespy agency was involved in drug trafficking was ”ludicrous” and withoutmerit.
The Mercury News, however, discovered that both before and during thetime the drug ring was selling drugs in black neighborhoods, the drug dealerswere meeting with the CIA operatives who were in charge of the guerrillaarmy, Enrique Bermudez and Adolfo Calero.
Myron Marlin, a spokesman for the Department of Justice, said, ”Wereceived the Congresswoman’s letter and are currently reviewing the matterat this time.”
Waters, who represented South-Central Los Angeles in the CaliforniaLegislature before her election to Congress, asked Reno to provide her withthe government’s files on the three men featured in the Mercury News’ series:Nicaraguan drug smuggler Norwin Meneses; former Nicaraguan governmentofficial-turned-cocaine-broker Danilo Blandon, and former South Centralcrack king ”Freeway” Rick Ross.
”The impact and the implications of the Meneses/Blandon/Ross Contra CIAcrack cocaine connection cannot be understated,” Waters wrote to Reno andDeutch. ”We all have an obligation to get to the very bottom of the origin,development and implementation of this seedy enterprise.”
Meneses and Blandon were civilian leaders in California of the CIA’s army,formally known as the Nicaraguan Democratic Force but more commonly calledthe Contras. Blandon has admitted selling Ross thousands of kilos of cocaineduring the last decade and said he began dealing cocaine in Los Angeles in1982 to raise money for the CIA’s army, which was trying to overthrow therevolutionary Sandinista government of Nicaragua.
Waters, in an interview Tuesday, said she intends to ask the CongressionalBlack Caucus to conduct the hearings into this matter, saying she didn’t wantthe probe ”messed up” the way past investigations into CIA drug traffickingallegations have been.
During the 1980s, a subcommittee headed by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., exploredan East Coast cocaine pipeline that was funding the Contras at roughly thesame time. Though his investigation documented the drug network’s existenceand operations, Republicans on the committee refused to sign the report andits findings were largely ignored by the national media.
Though Waters has asked permission to do hearings through the traditionalCongressional committee process, she said that was done mostly as a courtesy.Regardless of the response of Congressional leaders, she said, hearings willtake place.
”You don’t need permission from any damn body to do a hearing,” she said.”We (the Congressional Black Caucus) did hearings on the church burnings. Idon’t want to have some sanitized hearings that won’t do what we need todo.”
On Tuesday, Waters went to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in SanDiego to interview Rick Ross, who is currently awaiting sentencing on federalcocaine conspiracy charges. Ross said he spent two and a half hours speakingwith Waters about his relationship with the Nicaraguans and the DEA stingthat resulted in his arrest last year — a sting run by his former cocainesupplier, Danilo Blandon.
Waters said she hoped the CIA and Department of Justice would turn overdocuments involving Meneses and Blandon voluntarily, but said the committeewill issue subpoenas if necessary.
”We’re in this for the long haul,” she vowed.
When the Mercury News asked for the documents under the Freedom ofInformation Act, only one agency — the National Archives — complied. TheCIA refused to release any records on national security grounds and the DEAsaid it didn’t want to turn over documents because it was concerned aboutinvading the privacy of the two convicted cocaine traffickers.
Waters said she was going to ask Reno Wednesday to safeguard the filesuntil they can be turned over to Congressional investigators.
Meneses and Blandon have a long history of involvement with various agenciesof the U.S. government, particularly the Drug Enforcement Administration.Blandon, in fact, is a full-time informant for the DEA, a highly sensitivejob he was given when the Justice Department got him out of jail in 1994.Since then, Blandon has been paid more than $166,000 by the JusticeDepartment for his work with the DEA.
Waters is the second federal lawmaker to make an official request for aninvestigation into the drug pipeline. Last week, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer,D-California, asked CIA Director Deutch to do an internal investigation ofthe relationship between the drug pipeline and the CIA.